Charlie Boone

by Geron Kees

There's A Strange Partridge in My Pear Tree, Charlie Boone! - Chapter 6

Kippy sighed tiredly, and Charlie put an arm around his boyfriend. "That sounded a little wistful, Kip."

They were sitting alone for the moment in the villa's meeting room, gazing out at the city and the crowded pirate market beyond. The city of a thousands suns, as Charlie sometimes thought of it.

Kip nuzzled Charlie's cheek with his nose. "'s not. Or, maybe it is, just a little. I was just remembering when I was young, how I'd count down the days to Christmas. Each day was special, a number in a line, diminishing by one as each day passed and the special day approached. Time was made of concrete back then, you know? Now, with all the magical people in our lives, and getting places in the blink of an eye, and Engris being in a state of no-time, my feeling of when Christmas is coming has become a little vague."

Charlie smiled, giving Kip a gentle squeeze. "Every day I spend with you is Christmas, Kip."

Kippy leaned his head against Charlie's and closed his eyes. "You say the sweetest things, Charlie."

Charlie blew out a small breath, and nodded. "I do know what you mean, though, about time. It has gotten a little confusing lately. I'm thinking it's time to go home, to our house, and wait for the day to get here."

Kippy sat up straighter. "Can we?" He frowned then. "But, what about everyone here?"

Charlie smiled. "They can come with us. Or, we'll give them a call just before the party is to start, and they can come downstairs and join us then. In the meantime, let them enjoy themselves here."

Kippy smiled. "Okay. I want the lights on the house to be just right, and the Christmas trees just right, and...I want everything to be right for our first holiday in our new home."

"And, it will be. You'll see."

Robin seemed the only one not surprised by their decision to return to the house. "I kind of felt it coming," he confided. "You need to build up to Christmas day this year. Enjoy the few days before it gets here. Not go chasing after it, trying to grab a hold of it before it's ready for you."

Kippy looked surprised. "That's a very sweet sentiment."

Robin grinned. "Didn't know I had it in me, did you?"


But at a gentle nudge from Charlie, Kippy sighed. "I've long suspected there was a romantic underneath that world-tamer attitude of yours."

Robin's eyes twinkled merrily, but he seemed disinclined to carry the conversation further.

Most everyone wanted to come back with them immediately. Frit and Pip, because they had things to do before the holiday arrived. Ragal and Casper, because they had already arrived at the house, and wanted to stay. Rick and Adrian were just as ready to be at home for the few days left as Charlie and Kip were.

Browbeat and Auggie were ready to return, too. "Casper and Auggie can come hang out in my room!" the flyer said happily.

Pacha wanted to stay on Engris a little longer, as he was having a wonderful time visiting with Chirka. That was perfectly understandable, too. Mike, Bobby, and Kontus also decided to stay on Engris a little longer, the three of them expressing a need to unwind a little after so long in deep space. They could actually do that to their heart's content there in no-time, and still get to the house well ahead of the holiday. Everyone promised to be there, and Charlie and Kip were not worried that anyone would miss the event.

Castor offered a satisfying warm glow at Charlie's breast, a sign that he was willing to return home, too.

"And I know what I want to do first thing," Kippy said. "Call Horace and Amy, and invite them over."

"They're coming to the party," Charlie reminded.

"Oh, I know. But I want to see them sooner. With us not going to the office this week, I really miss Amy! And Horace hasn't been by in two days!"

Charlie nodded. "Okay. We'll call them."

Kippy grinned then. "I also have to see a man about a horse."

At Charlie's puzzled squint, Kippy just laughed. "You'll see."

Dick Sternman shut off the table saw and stepped away from it, careful not to bang the length of maple against the metal legs of the table. He laid out the board on his work table, satisfied with the cut, and took a moment to stop and review the plans in his head, the next piece of the cabinet he was building coming into view within his mind's eye.

Shadow, at rest on the concrete floor nearby, picked up her head then, and eyed him a moment in that curious way that only a dog can manage. Dick smiled at her, looking around the shop. "You hear something I don't?"

There was a soft rap at the outside door then, and Dick turned to see a familiar face on the other side of the window. "Kip!"

The young man waved, and smiled at the dog, who jumped to her feet, her tail wagging happily. Dick reached the door and opened it, and then stepped back and waved a hand for his guest to enter. "Come in and get that cold off your back, boy!"

Kip came inside and bent to hug Shadow while Dick closed the door, and then straightened to offer a hug to the man. "Good to see you again!"

Dick laughed, and then stepped back to look Kip up and down. "You're all in one piece, I see. Not being chased by any nasty old legends this time, huh?"

"Not this time. I'm here on a personal matter."

"Well, come over here to the office. I have room to seat one visitor, anyway."

They moved to the small room, which held a desk and a couple of chairs, and books on all sorts of woodworking topics. "Take a load off, Kip, and tell me your troubles."

Kippy sat, and immediately leaned forward in his chair. "How busy are you in the shop right now?"

Dick's eyebrows raised at that, and he smiled as he looked around at the half-dozen projects he had going, in various stages of completion. "Oh...not very. Something important?"

Kippy nodded. "Yes. But pretty simple, too. I bought Charlie something special for Christmas. In order for it to really be appreciated, it needs to be at a certain height, and placed on something where we can easily walk around it. I'm thinking of a stand of some kind."

Dick gave a little shrug. "I'd need the dimensions you want."

Kippy fished a piece of paper out of his pocket and laid it on the desk. "Here. There's even a rough drawing of what I want."

Dick picked up the paper and unfolded it, to gaze at what was within. "What's that contraption on top?"

"An orrery." Kippy smiled. "It's a representation of a sun and planets. Kind of a model."

"Uh huh. Well, whoever made it needs to go back to school. Our solar system has more than six planets."

"It's not our solar system," Kippy returned. "Can you make it for me?"

Dick smiled. "Sure. You want it for Christmas, I take it?"

"If that's possible."

"It is. This is something I can put together in an afternoon." Dick frowned. "I'll need to drive into town and get some wood at Lowe's. Any idea what sort you want?"

"I brought the wood with me," Kippy said, his eyes bright. "It's outside."

"Oh. What is it? Pine? Oak?"

"It's called durkla. It's from Engris. You can't get it here."

Dick's interest picked up at that. "Wood from Engris?" He rubbed his hands together then. "This will be interesting!"

But then the man dropped his hands, and squinted at Kippy quizzically. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but couldn't you or one of your friends have just whipped up this stand magically?'

Kippy sighed at that. "Yes. But it wouldn't be the same." He reached out to place a hand on the man's arm. "This is a special gift, for a special person. Magic wouldn't be the same. I want this stand built by a friend of Charlie's. I want the special love and attention you put into the things you make. Like the furniture we have at the office. You know what I mean?"

Dick smiled at that. "I think I do. If you have the wood here, I can probably do this pretty quickly, and have it for you tomorrow afternoon or the next morning."

Kippy grinned. "You have four days until Christmas. Take your time!"

They both laughed over that.

"Oh," Dick said then. "What time Christmas Eve should I be ready for you to pick me up?"

Kippy smiled. "You'll want to be here Christmas Eve, won't you? With your wife?" He looked down at the smiling dog then. "And Shadow?"

Dick chuckled. "Well, the wife will understand me going out early for a few hours. But I would like to be back here by later in the evening." He pointed at the dog then. "My co-pilot here thinks she's supposed to go everywhere I do, though."

Kippy shrugged. "Bring her to the party with you. I'll come for you around noon, your time. Nicholaas and Max are handling the chronological choreography on this. It will be Christmas Eve day here when I get you, but Christmas Eve night at the party. That way, everyone gets a chance to be there, and still be home for the holiday."

The older man laughed at that. "Sounds complicated."

"To me, too," Kip agreed. "But I guess it's not, when you're Santa!"

The boys stood back and sighed happily as the landscaping trucks drove away. The new trees and shrubs had been planted in the beds before the house, and mulch placed around them. The dwarf spruces at each end of the front porch went well with the evergreen Juniperus 'Blue Star' planted between them and along the rest of the base of the house, giving the place a much more finished look now. Kip's insistence that the spruces be at least five feet tall had delayed the project from Monday until Thursday, as Bill Spires scrambled to locate more mature trees than he had originally planned to use. But he had come through for them, and now the project was completed.

Kippy sighed happily. "It looks great." He turned to smile at Charlie and the others. "Will someone help me put the lights on the little trees?"

It turned out to be something everyone wanted a hand in. The lights were placed, tested, moved around a little by Rick to more fill the branches while everyone observed, until finally pronounced perfect by Kip and Adrian.

Rick raised a hand and blew across the end of his forefinger, as if blowing smoke from the barrel of a just-fired revolver. "Just call me ol' dead-eye," he said, smiling.

He and Adrian moved closer to the house, to examine the new lights for any last-second placement. But even in the muted sunlight from above, the tiny glows looked perfectly at home where they were..

Above them, Browbeat flew back and forth excitedly. "I can't wait until it's dark!"

Charlie waved at him then, again looking around at the woods. "Come here, my friend, and light on my shoulder. No use drawing too much attention to yourself."

Browbeat whizzed over and stopped at the last second, and lowered himself onto Charlie's shoulder. "You should stop worrying about that, Charlie. Get Max or somebody to put some magic around the house, so you will know if anyone's in the woods. You shouldn't have to worry about trespassers where you live!"

Kippy chuckled at that. "He has a point."

Charlie nodded. "He does. And I don't know why I didn't think of that."

Charlie turned to smile at Frit and Pip. "Hey, guys? I have a task for you to consider."

The two elves wandered over, their expressions grim. "We heard," Pip said, in a growl.

"Yeah," Frit agreed, sounding distinctly hostile "You want us to set up a field that incinerates anyone that comes on your property illegally?"

Charlie's eyes widened in surprise, because the elf looked absolutely like he meant it!

Kippy's mouth dropped open. "I hope you're not serious!"

The two elves continued to look threatening for a moment; and then it was too much for them, and they dissolved into laughter. "We had you going!" Pip called, his face a mask of glee.

"You should see how you look!" Frit added, slapping his knee.

Kippy sighed, and rolled his eyes. "For a pair that are not known for their poker faces, those were some really good ones!"

"We've been practicing," Frit responded, smiling. "Pretty good, huh?"

Kippy put his hands on his hips, and shook his head. "Yes, if you want to sound like a pair of murderous thugs!"

The two elves exchanged glances. "I'm sorry, Kip," Frit said. "But sometimes, serious is needed, and we haven't always been good at hiding what we're thinking. We decided that if we ever wanted to be taken seriously, we needed to act that way sometimes."

"If not carried to extremes," Pip added, allowing a smile then.

Kippy looked from one cute face to the other, and then relaxed. "We take you guys seriously. Um, sometimes!"

Frit turned to Pip. "See? It's hard to just be a couple of pretty faces!"

Charlie and Kip both laughed at that.

"You don't have to practice being grim," Charlie said then.

"And definitely not like stone-cold killers," Kippy added, his eyes bright.

"Right," Charlie pointed at the two elves. "We actually love you the way you are. Save the serious stuff for when you really need it, okay?"

Pip reached out and poked Frit's arm. "That sounds good, doesn't it?"

Frit nodded. "Yeah." A grin replaced the doubt in his face. "Okay. Besides, it's Christmas, and there's no place for grim at Christmas."

Pip waved a hand at the woods. "It wouldn't be hard to put some skwish around this place that would just cause anyone crossing your property line uninvited to simply change their minds and decide they'd rather be elsewhere."

"Not hard at all," Frit agreed. "With a clause in it that people in need of help could still come to your house."

Kippy clasped his hands together in satisfaction. "I like that touch!"

Frit nodded. "Should we do it? I'll even add some magic that will let you guys know if someone is coming." The elf flicked his fingers, and a titanic bong! rang out over the landscape.

Kippy gasped in alarm. "That's way too much!"

Frit looked at his fingers, and then frowned. "That was Big Ben. I mean to use Baby Ben." He flicked his fingers again, and a gentle ringing, like the sound of an old mechanical alarm clock, sounded in the air before them.

"Much better," Kippy approved. "So if we hear that sound, we know someone has come on our property?"

"Or that it's time to get up for school!" Pip returned, with apparent glee. The two elves fell against each other, laughing and hugging. and Kip turned to Charlie with a smile of his own. "They're incorrigible. But I love them."

Charlie nodded, watching Frit and Pip convulse while clinging to each other for support. "I wouldn't have them any other way."

Browbeat gave a little sigh, and rubbed against Charlie's cheek. "So, I can fly around out here now?"

"Be my guest," Charlie said, waving at the late afternoon sky, which was growing purple and orange along the western horizon.

Browbeat launched into the air and commenced to dipping, spinning, and fluttering happily around them, hooting in his tiny voice, and plainly enjoying himself immensely.

Kippy sighed, and put an arm around Charlie. "We're surrounded by nuts."

Charlie also sighed, and nodded. "Isn't it wonderful?"

Adrian and Rick came over then, smiling at the two elves, and ducking their heads as Browbeat flashed by overhead. "What on earth is going on here?" Adrian asked, laughing.

"Just some Christmas cheer," Kippy explained, smiling. "Pull up a seat and enjoy."

Ricky pointed at the house. "I think we ought to go inside and see how Ragal, Casper, and Robin are doing decorating the dining room. I hope leaving them alone was a good idea."

Kippy laughed. "Ragal and Casper are just making suggestions. Auggie and Robin are doing the magic. I'd say that good taste will prevail."

"I hope so," Adrian said. "If we go in and find the place decorated like some harem from the Orban of Emiranda's palace from twenty-thousand years ago, don't say I didn't warn you!"

They had a laugh at that, knowing Adrian was having fun with them.

Frit and Pip had regained their composure, and came over to them. "It's done, Charlie. Most people will just decide it's time to go home if they try to cross onto your property. If someone is in trouble or needs help, they'll be able to come ahead. If you hear the little ringing sound, you'll know that someone is about."

"How will we know where they are?" Kippy asked.

Frit turned to Pip, and the two elves frowned at each other. "A good question," Pip said.

"A very good question," Frit agreed. He though a moment, and then smiled, and flicked his fingers again. A butterfly appeared in the air before them, and fluttered back and forth in a very orderly pattern.

"This is Yurnoz," Frit explained. "He'll appear when the little bell sounds, and he can take you to where the person is located."

Pip grinned. "Yep. Just follow Yurnoz!"

The two elves started laughing again, while Kippy just stared at them. "What if it's at night? We won't be able to see this little fellow in the dark."

Frit managed to stop laughing. "Oh, Yurnoz glows in the dark!"

"LIke Rudolph!" Pip added, and the elves started to break up again.

Frit took a breath then, and poked at Pip to quiet him. "Sorry, guys. But it's just like I say. If the little bell rings, Yurnoz will appear, and you can follow him to the trespasser. Okay?" He flicked his fingers again, and the butterfly vanished.

Kippy nodded, trying not to laugh, himself. "Thanks, guys. And if the people are invited, or our friends, it won't affect them?"

"Not even a little," Frit confirmed. He nodded then. "We have to go. We've been shirking our duties. I don't want to do that to grandpa Max."

"But we'll be back for the party!" Pip added, grinning.

Frit waved a hand, and a sleigh with four reindeer in harness before it appeared nearby. But it was an insubstantial image, one they could see through, and Charlie immediately doubted it was really there at all.

But Frit and Pip ran to it and jumped into the seat. Frit lifted the nearly invisible reins, and snapped them. "On Dasher! On Dancer! On Prancer! On Vixen!"

Pip waved a hand. "On Comet! On Cupid! On Donner! On Blitzen!"

Frit turned to grin at his boyfriend. "I only made four reindeer, dum dum!"

Pip laughed happily. "Whatever! We're off!"

The sleigh surged forward, leaving no tracks in the soft, straw-covered earth, and then leapt into the sky. Browbeat let out a happy yell, and moved in to circle the ephemeral craft. The two elves laughed wildly and waved at the flyer, turned and waved down at Charlie and the others a last time, and then the whole affair disappeared with a pop!, and quiet descended over the surrounding forest.

"That was kinda fun," Adrian finally said, into the new silence.

"Fun!" Rick blew out an amazed breath. "Those two boys are crazy!"

Browbeat came back, and gently lowered himself onto Charlie's shoulder. "That was a blast! Friends! Is it Christmas yet?"

Charlie laughed, and shook his head. But he raised a hand to rub the little flyer's fur, and turned his head to look into Browbeat's golden eyes. "Not just yet."

Browbeat let out a hefty sigh for one so small. "I can't imagine it getting better than this!"

Kippy leaned forward to look at him. "I don't think it's even started yet!"

The house actually looked wonderful. The decorated dining room had a distinctly Bavarian look to it, suggesting that Robin's influence had mostly prevailed. But there were a few small things, here and there, with an otherworldly flavor to them, that suggested that Casper and Ragal had had more than a little say in things.

"Naturally, we followed Robin's lead," Ragal admitted, when asked. "We're still learning about your Christmas traditions, even after several years of enjoying them." The lanky alien laughed. "I have to admit, your Halloween and your Christmas traditions would have gone over hugely in my own people's time. We have always known a good thing when we see it!"

"I think they're amazing holidays," Casper agreed. "It's a shame there are only the two!"

"Well, you know we have others," Kippy said. "You've been here for some of them."

"And they're fun," Casper admitted. "But these two are special."

They heard the front door knocker then, and Kippy's face lit up. "Oh, they're here!"

"And no butterfly or bells," Rick pointed out. "So Frit's stuff is working."

"Well, of course!" Kippy said, spinning about and heading for the entry foyer. "They're big boys now!"

"Good job on the decorating, guys," Charlie offered, as they all merged into a group to follow Kip to the door.

"It was fun," Ragal returned, smiling. "Most of the things involving you and your friends are fun, Charlie."

"Very fun!" Casper agreed.

Charlie smiled. "Always better when you two are with us!"

The reached the foyer to find Kip swinging the door open. "Hi! You made it!"

Horace Wingspanner stepped inside, Amy Brandt on his arm. "We brought someone with us!"

Kippy gasped in delight. "Kiernan!"

The witch boy looked slightly embarrassed as he stepped forward to be hugged, and Horace and Amy laughed at the look on his face. Kippy made a thorough job of it, and then returned to Horace and Amy to hug them. "Merry Christmas!"

Charlie and the others crowded around, and everyone offered and received hugs, and the three newcomers were ushered into the parlor. Coats and hats were taken and hung up, and everyone took seats near the fire.

"Chilly out tonight," Horace said, rubbing his hands together. "We saw some snowflakes coming down, too."

Charlie nodded. "You came in the Roadmaster?" he asked, referring to Horace's classic woody Buick wagon.

"Yes. She loves the cold air, but not the slick roads. I hope it doesn't get worse later."

"We have room here, if you get snowed in," Kippy said, sounding as if he didn't find the idea objectionable at all. But he followed the suggestion with a grin. "Or, we could always tuck your car in the garage for the night, and I can teleport you guys home when you're ready to go. And then get you back here for the party."

Charlie held up a hand. "Relax, Kip. The weather people said just some light flurries tonight, with no accumulation."

Kip made a face at that, but didn't let it spoil his enthusiasm. "It's sure great to see you all."

Amy smiled. "I have to admit to missing the office these last few days. I've been checking the voicemail and the email, though. Looks like we'll have some job offers when we get back."

Rick clapped his hands together. "That sounds good! It will be great to get back to work!"

"Anything interesting?" Charlie asked.

Amy frowned. "A couple of the voicemails sounded, well" -- she smiled then -- "let's just say, odd. But no one went into enough detail for me to really judge. We'll have to do some callbacks when the office reopens."

Horace sighed then. "The house is gorgeous, guys. Coming up the drive, when the house appears, all lit up, it's just stunning."

"Looks like a palace fit for a prince," Kiernan said, winking at Kip.

Kip smiled back. He leaned forward to eye the boy. "Speaking of princes--" He leered just a little, and Kiernan's face reddened slightly. But then Kip smiled beautifully, and finished his sentence. "--how is Pyewacket doing?"

Kiernan sighed at that. "Oh, he's just fine. He hasn't taken it upon himself to go exploring outside of Kinniston lately, I will say."

"I think Nicholaas made him a little nervous, with his lecture" Adrian offered.

Kiernan laughed at that. "That would have made me nervous, if it had been meant for me!"

The guests were shown around the house. Horace and Amy had been there before, but neither had seen the new cellar or attic, and Kiernan hadn't seen any of it.

"Just amazing stuff," the witch boy offered, after the tour was over. He stared at Charlie with awe. "This is just so far beyond what my people can do."

Kippy patted the boy's arm. "It's beyond what we can do, too. This sort of skwish is what the top dogs do. If we ever get anywhere near what Nicholaas knows, I'll be surprised!"

"So will I," Charlie admitted. "It takes a lot longer than we've been around to learn this sort of skwish."

But Kiernan smiled then. "It's an utterly cool house, guys. It suits you."

"It does," Amy agreed.

Horace chuckled. "Now you just need a Tesla device in a hidden cellar, and some block people from another dimension living inside the house."

They laughed at that, the reference to Rick's cousin's house a nice reminder that there were other homes out there with hidden secrets.

Robin sighed, and smiled around at everyone before turning his gaze on Charlie. "Wanna trade it for an 800 year-old castle in Bavaria?"

They knew the man wasn't serious. Charlie smiled. "That place suits you, Robin. It's big, it's bold, and it has a lot of heart."

Robin looked pleased at the compliment. "Aw, thanks. I have to admit, this place would look strange with my collection of medieval armor standing about in the hallways."

Browbeat, who had been perched quietly on Auggie's shoulders, lifted into the air and moved to hover in front of Robin. "Can I come see your place someday?"

"Sure. Anytime you'd like." Robin leaned closer. "It's a great place to fly in, I've been told. Very high ceilings!"

Browbeat tittered happily, and turned to face Charlie. "I knew I liked this guy!"

Kippy sighed. "You like everyone, sweetheart."

Browbeat lifted above them, and circled the group happily. "Well, I try!"

Amy smiled at Charlie. "Some high spirits here today."

"It's been a very unusual Christmas so far," Charlie admitted.

Kip's cell phone rang then, and he pulled it from his pocket to look at the screen. "Oh, I'd better take this."

He turned away from them, and walked into the hall to answer. Charlie watched him go with a trace of surprise.

Rick gave him a gentle prod with his elbow. "Your boyfriend is up to something!"

Adrian huffed, and lightly smacked Rick's arm. "You stay out of this!"

Rick looked surprised. "I was just saying!"

There was a pop then, and Max appeared nearby. "Hi, fellas!"

Charlie had to laugh. If this was a taste of what was to come, living in this house was going to be interesting! And hectic!

"What's up?" Charlie asked.

Max turned to smile at the others. "Hi, folks. Good to see you."

Charlie stood by while Max exchanged hugs with everyone. Kippy came back then, and wanted to be hugged, too. Finally, Max was released. He favored Charlie with a smile. "Um, Pacha, Mike, Bobby, and Kontus will be here in a few minutes. They're getting their stuff together."

Charlie was stunned, and shook his head. "I thought they were going to take a few days off!"

Max grinned. "Charlie, they're in no-time. They've had a few days off!"

"Well, what's the rush?"

Max cleared his throat. "Well, your party will be starting soon."

"What?" Kippy blurted. "It's still four days until Christmas!"

Max shook his head. "No it ain't. The boss is going to do a dial up on the time. He wants to do that, so that he and Ronja can give you one more gift."

"Another one?" Kippy asked, shaking his head. "We don't deserve all that!"

Max sort of smiled. "That's a matter of opinion. Anyway, we need to get anyone here that's coming, that ain't here yet."

Kippy gasped then. "I'll be back in a few minutes!" he turned, and disappeared with a pop!

Charlie stared in disbelief. "Is everyone going nuts!"

Browbeat appeared then, and landed carefully on Charlie's shoulder. "I'm with you, pal!"

Charlie closed his eyes a moment, and then opened them and looked over at Rick and Adrian. They looked equally confused, but Rick just shrugged. "I guess we have to go with it."

But Max shook his head. "No, you don't. Just say no, and all this will stop." He moved closer to Charlie then. "But I think you ought to just go with what the boss wants."

The look in the elf's eyes was clear. Trust me.

Kippy reappeared then, along with Dick Sternman, his dog, Shadow, and a large package wrapped in brown paper. "Did we miss anything?"

Charlie simply laughed. "I don't think so." He looked back at Max then, who was still watching him, waiting for an answer. "Okay. Let's get on with this."

Max grinned, and snapped his fingers. Frit and Pip appeared then, circled with wrapped presents in pretty paper with bows. "Merry Christmas!" they called.

More hugs were exchanged. The parlor was full of sound then, cheery and warm, despite the sudden strange turn of events. Charlie looked around, realizing how many of their friends were there, and could only smile.

Just then they heard a noise out in the hallway, and Charlie realized it was someone coming down from the floor above. Several someones!

"Who's that?" Rick asked, also turning to look.

In a moment, Mike came in from the foyer, carrying Pacha. Bobby was right behind him, carrying Chirka, and Kontus arrived then, his arms full of wrapped presents.

"Hi, people!" Mike called cheerily, setting Pacha on a sofa. Bobby set Chirka beside him, and then they had to go around and hug everyone. By now the noise level was up there, as everyone got reacquainted.

So of course, Nicolaas and Ronja chose that moment to appear!

For a few minutes more, chaos reigned, as everyone hugged and shook hands and talked and laughed. Kippy brought Dick and Shadow over to Charlie then, and Charlie greeted the two of them.

"Looks like we got here just in time!" Dick hollered, smiling.

"I guess!" Charlie hollered back, dropping a hand to rub Shadow on the head. "I just live here! I have no idea what's going in!"

"That makes two of us!" Kippy hollered.

Charlie squinted at the large package wrapped in brown paper then. "What's that?"

Dick looked over his shoulder, and then turned an innocent look on Charlie. "That? Why...I have no idea!"

Kippy laughed, and squeezed Charlie's arm. "It's from me, to you. Dick was kind enough to make it for me."

"Oh, that!" Dick said then, grinning. "It's just what Kip said!"

They laughed then, and Charlie felt his spirits rise. Whatever Nicholaas had planned, he must have a good reason for the changes. Charlie looked around, and was certain he had never had so many of the people he loved around him at one time. How could this not be good?

Nicholaas and Ronja came over to them then, smiling. "A bit crazy, isn't it? Nicholaas asked.

Charlie nodded. "A little."

The man that was Santa nodded. "I'll fix it." He turned then, and raised his hands, and it was amazing how quickly everyone quieted down. Respect will do that, Charlie mused, smiling.

"Thank you all," Nicholaas said then. He turned, and motioned to Rick and Adrian. "Would you two mind joining Charlie and Kip?"

"What about me?" Browbeat called.

Nicholaas smiled, and patted his shoulder. "I want you with me. You're going to help me with this."

Browbeat tittered joyfully, and lifted from Auggie to come to Nicholaas, who cocked his head to one side to offer his shoulder. "That's it." Nicholaas smiled, and offered a hand to Ronja, who smiled and took it, and moved to stand by his side.

"Merry Christmas, Charlie," they said in unison. "And you, Kip, and you, Rick, and you Adrian. Merry Christmas to you all."

Charlie looked at Kip, who took his hand and smiled. "Well," his boyfriend answered, reaching out to pull Rick and Adrian closer. "What do you say?"

"Merry Christmas!" Charlie returned, along with his three friends.

"Merry Christmas!" everyone else chanted, just because it seemed the thing to do.

Nicholaas nodded, looking around the room. "I see many of the people that are important to you boys. We missed a few, but the majority are here."

Charlie and the others looked around, and had to agree.

"It is quite a crowd," Pacha agreed, laughing. Chirka simply shook her head in agreement.

Nicholaas raised his hands. "A wonderful crowd, a special crowd. The people that matter most to you four, and for whom you are equally important, in return."

Kippy squeezed Charlie's hand, and he nodded. "I'd agree with that."

"An almost perfect crowd," Nicholaas went on...and then he sighed heavily. "Almost. But someone is missing. Someone important to all your lives." Nicholaas shook his head. "We can't have that."

They heard the front door knocker then. Charlie turned with Kip to look that way, and then just as quickly turned his head back to Nicholaas. "Who is that?"

But Nicholaas just smiled. "Answer the door, Charlie. Kip, Rick, Adrian...go with him."

Charlie stared for a moment, unable to understand what was happening, but trusting in Nichaolaas too much not to comply. He nodded, and pulled Kip along with him as they headed for the front door. Rick and Adrian were right behind them. Charlie was aware of the others following, and gathering in the foyer as Charlie stopped before the front door.

The knocker rapped again, gently, hardly insistent. Charlie swallowed hard in anticipation, and stepped forward to flick open the peephole. He bent and looked out onto the illuminated front porch--

Bob Travers stood there, bathed in the light from the overhead fixture.

But he was not alone.

Charlie gasped. Behind Bob were Rick's parents, and Kip's parents, and Adrian's mom, and...and Charlie's parents, too!

"It's time to include them, Charlie," Nicholaas said quietly, to his rear. "They are among the most important people in your lives, yet they stand outside of them. They have not shared in your accomplishments, they have not shared in your travels, they have not shared in the things you have come to know. Don't you think it's time they did?"

Charlie turned, his eyes going to Kontus, to Browbeat, to Pacha and Chirka, again cradled in Mike's and Bobby's arms. "How do we explain this?" he gasped out. How did he explain to his parents that he knew aliens, and elves? And Santa!

Ronja smiled at him. "It's time to trust them, Charlie. No one on this earth loves you more than the people standing outside that door. It's time to let them in, don't you think?"

Nicholaas moved closer then. "I have already spoken with them, Charlie. They know. They know everything."

Charlie gasped. "Everything?"

Nicholaas nodded, "Yes, And, as you can see, they are still here!"

Charlie turned to Kip, who looked as frightened as Charlie felt. And to Rick and Adrian, who also looked petrified at the thought of what was to come. "What do we do?"

Nicholaas sighed. "Charlie."

Charlie turned back to his friend. Nicholaas smiled. "The reason I moved up Christmas, was just for this moment, for all of you. I did it so you could experience having your families a full part of your lives again. No more not sharing your adventures with them. No more not telling them where you have been, or where you are going. No more deceptions. These are people you love, and who love you. They deserve better than to be excluded from the best part of your lives."

He sighed. "And...none of this must be permanent. I moved up the day so that you could test the waters, see if you could manage this. Ronja and I are your friends, people who love you and care about your welfare. We considered this something you should experience, but we have no right to thrust it upon you. All we ask is that you try trusting your families...and see how it goes."

"Not permanent?" Kippy asked, shaking his head.

"No," Ronja answered, smiling. "If it doesn't work out, it can all be dialed back, and the Christmas party will proceed as you planned it. Without your families."

Without your families.

The sentence repeated, over and over in Charlie's mind. He and the others had long considered how they would tell their families when...if...that day came. No matter how Charlie had imagined it, it had never seemed like it would be easy. Mom...Dad? Um, I am part owner in an interstellar shipping line, and have alien friends on a dark planet called Engris. I have been to the lower level, where the dead go, and to parts of the galaxy you cannot imagine. I know elves, and Santa, and magical beings that can travel between alternate realities. Do you believe me, Mom? Dad?

"They know about this," Bob Travers said then. He waved a hand at the room, and the people in it. "All of this, Charlie. And they're okay with it, believe me."

"They know?" Charlie repeated then. "Already? Everything?"

"Everything," Nicholaas agreed, smiling.

"And they believed you?" Kippy whispered, incredulous.

Nicholaas laughed. "I am most persuasive, when I have reason to be."

"They know everything," Ronja repeated. "All you need do now is...let them in. Trust them."

Charlie turned to Kip, searching his boyfriend's eyes for a clue on what to do now. But at the same time, he knew what he had to do, what he dearly wished to do.

Charlie nodded. "Let them in?"

Kippy bit at his lip, but nodded. "Yes."

Charlie looked over to Rick and Adrian. "Let them in?"

Rick tightened his arm around Adrian, and nodded.

"Do it," Adrian said then.

Charlie felt a peculiar elation, one that pushed his fear and uncertainty away from him. He smiled at Kip, and hugged him close. And then he reached for the knob, and opened the door.

They sang carols before the fireplace, drank hot cocoa, and laughed and talked and felt like family again. Their offworld friends didn't know the words to the songs, but seemed to enjoy them, and the company, and the incredible spirit of the evening. Everyone had fun, and Charlie wanted the evening to never end.

"I never knew how to tell you," he told his mother and father, in a moment between songs. "I never knew how to make it sound like anything but...fantasy."

His father laughed. "Nicholaas and Ronja didn't just tell us, they showed us. Like little movies, projected in the air, of places you boys had been, things you had done. People, of all kinds, that you knew."

Charlie shook his head. "And believed."

"It wasn't as hard as you imagine," his mother said. She patted his arm. "There are stories in our family of people that could, well, do things. Do things like you and your friends can do."

"In my family, too," his father admitted,

Charlie gaped at them. "And you never told me!"

His parents looked at each other a moment. "How do you tell someone about things like that?" his mother asked, shrugging. She laughed, and leaned closer. "Oh, your grandma could make plants grow, just by touching them. And Uncle Jake could hammer in nails without tools!" She shook her head. "It sounds a little nutty, don't you think?"

Charlie's mouth dropped open. "Could grandma make plants grow, just by touching them?" He was remembering now the incredible green thumb that his mother had, too!

His mother smiled. "Does it matter?"

Charlie nodded. "It probably does. Skwish moves in family lines. If I have it, it came from one, or both, of you."

"I'd say both," his father told him, smiling. "Wait until you hear what Uncle Ken can do!"

Charlie introduced his parents to Pacha, and Chirka, and Kontus, as well as Mike and Bobby. And then Max, and Frit and Pip.

"Elves?" his mother asked, looking enchanted. "Nicholaas told us about you!"

Max laughed. "All lies, I'm sure!"

Charlie's mom smiled at that. "He speaks the world of all of you. And he said you were particularly a charmer, Max, and to watch out for you!"

Max's eyes widened, and a rosy hue rose in his cheeks. "Aw, geez!"

Charlie squeezed his eyes shut, unable to believe the moment. Max and his mom, together!

Browbeat made a special hit with Charlie's mom, who had a thing for butterflies and bumblebees in her garden. She couldn't take her eyes off him when he landed on Charlie's shoulder and introduced himself. Charlie's dad noticed that, and wrapped an arm around his wife's shoulders and whispered to her not to stare.

"It's probably not polite on any planet," he finished with, and they smiled at each other.

Kip's parents, who Charlie had once considered a little stiff and unaccepting, seemed amazingly pleased with the way things were going, as if they had long worried about the strange things they had felt about their son, all of which now seemed perfectly clear. Rick's parents seemed less surprised than Charlie would have expected, and it made him wonder if Uncle Bob hadn't been having a few private talks with them behind the scenes. Rick's brother and sister simply wandered around the room with stars in their eyes, enchanted at all that was happening, and who the participants happened to be. Rick was going to need to sit them both down at some point and determine where they needed to go next. Skwish ran in families, and it would be easier on his siblings if they had noticed anything unusual about themselves, to have experienced help to adjust.

And Adrian's mom seemed unable to stop smiling, as if now she could see something in her son that she had once known in her husband when he had been alive. Something that had carried on, something that had refued to die. Her happiness was so clear that Adrian was simply giddy with the knowledge.

Nicholaas and Ronja had performed a bit of magic with this one. That no one seemed unable to believe made a huge impression on Charlie. Their families were introduced to their friends, and listened to accounts of how they had met the boys, and seemed absolutely entranced with the entire evening.

Which seemed to be timeless to Charlie.

Finally, Nicholaas came over to Charlie while his parents were talking to Kontus about Roorapynta, and smiled at him. "So, Charlie. What do you think? You want to keep this evening for your own?"

Charlie sighed, and closed his eyes. "Absolutely. Thank you, Nicholaas." He opened his eyes, and grasped the man's arm, and squeezed it fondly. "You really are Santa, you know?"

Nicholaas rubbed at his nose a moment, but smiled. "Remember, Charlie. It's not about the gift. It's about the person you give it to. Merry Christmas, my friend."

Charlie stepped forward and hugged the man, and nodded. "I don't know what to do next," he said then.

Nicolaas smiled at him. "Go with your heart, Charlie. It has worked out well for you so far."

Charlie heard a hoot of glee then, and Casper came running over to him, with Auggie hot on his heels, and Browbeat beating his wings to stay balanced on the bearcat's shoulders.

Casper grabbed Charlie's arm and tugged on it. "Charlie, we're going out for pizza! What kind do you want?"

Charlie blinked at that. "But...we had a dinner planned for the party!"

Casper shrugged. "Oh, Lugh hasn't even made it yet! Auggie asked him!"

"Come on, Charlie!" Browbeat called, his tiny face full of delight. "This is a special night! Live a little!"

Charlie looked at Nicolaas, who simply smiled. "Your little friend is right. This is your night, Charlie. Yours, and Kip's and Rick's, and Adrian's." He lifted a hand to indicate the room, "And your friends and family. There is no need to stick to tradition. Enjoy yourselves."

Kippy came over then, to take Charlie's arm. "Just go with it, Charlie. Let the kids have their fun!"

Charlie laughed at that. "Well...I kind of liked the pizza I had the other day," he decided. "Um, with the storza toppings?"

"Sporza." Casper frowned at that. "Aw, come on, Charlie! There's 101 flavors! Try something new!"

Charlie looked around the room at his friends, his family, and the families of his friends. Try something new.

He nodded."Sure. How about you pick something, and surprise us?"

Casper nodded vigorously. "Okay! Come on, guys! Let's get Ragal to help carry stuff!"

The youngsters moved off into the crowd, laughing and carrying on, and Charlie and Kip watched them go, smiling.

Nicholaas offered Charlie a knowing look, gave a tiny wave of his hand, pointed at Kip, and moved away to leave them alone.

Kippy sighed then, and snuggled up to Charlie. "I can't believe my folks are here."

Charlie nodded. "I know. Were they okay with everything?"

Kippy laughed. "Uh huh. Did you know my Aunt Vicky can set things on fire without matches?"

Charlie laughed in amazement. "I've found out some family secrets, myself!"

Over by the fireplace, people laughed and cheered as Ragal headed off with the pizza crew for the attic. The feeling that spread throughout the room with that was amazing and wonderful. Different.

Charlie looked around at everyone then, and realized what it was that was different. They really had moved. They hadn't just switched houses. They hadn't just gone from one place to another.

They had moved into new lives. Gone were the old ones, where they knew magic by day, but returned home to the stolid certainty of their parent's homes by night. They had moved fully into the world of magic now, where they would claim it as their own, even as it claimed their hearts and minds in return. Something Charlie now found that he was ready for.

Horace and Amy came over to them then, looking eager. "We wanted to get some plates out, Charlie, for when the guys get back with the pizza," Amy said, smiling. "I see you have cabinets full of them in the hallway to the kitchen. Do you think your Lugh would mind if we got some out and put them on the table?"

Charlie laughed, and turned to Kippy. "Tell Lugh he has the night off. And tell him, Merry Christmas!"

Kippy nodded, and closed his eyes.

Charlie patted Amy's arm. "You go right ahead. We'll be along in a minute to help."

The woman sighed, and linked her arm with Horace's. "We love your house, guys. We were sort of thinking how nice it might be if the two of us made Horace's place our home."

Horace looked ecstatic, and nodded vigorously.

Kippy's eyes popped open as he gasped. "Are you two...are you planning to get...?"

Horace waved a hand in alarm. "Oh, don't announce anything yet, Kip. We will tell everyone, when the time is right." He deposited a kiss on Amy's cheek, and they turned to head back towards the kitchen.

Kippy turned to Charlie and kissed him. "What an unbelievable night! I love you, Charlie. Merry Christmas!"

"I love you, too, Kip. Merry Christmas!"

Charlie spied Dick Sternman over his boyfriend's shoulder then, who was talking animatedly with Ronja, while Shadow slept at his feet. The tall package wrapped in brown paper was still standing behind him.

Charlie pulled his head back then, to smile at Kip. "Oh. What was that thing wrapped in paper that Dick brought with him?"

Kippy gasped, and then turned and pulled at his arm. "Oh, come and see!"

Charlie resisted a moment, laughing. "Is it a present?"

Kippy smiled. "Yes."

"Just for me?"


Charlie sighed. "Something from your heart?"

"Of course, Charlie." Kippy smiled, and pulled on his arm again. "Come and see!"

Charlie laughed, and let himself be led off, back through the room crowded with the people he loved and who loved him; back through the warmth and the cheer; back through the beginnings of a new life, and one he felt would be filled every day now with the indescribable, unstoppable magic that was Christmas.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead